Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].

Automated Blinds Can Be A Cheap And Easy Build

Blinds are great for blocking out the sun, but having to get up to open and close them grows tiresome in this computationally-advanced age. [The Hook Up] decided to automate his home blinds instead, hooking them up to the Internet of Things with some common off-the-shelf parts.

The basic idea was to use stepper motors to turn the tilt rod which opens and closes the blinds. An early attempt to open blinds with unipolar stepper motors proved unsuccessful, when the weak motors weren’t capable of fully closing the blinds when running on 5 volts. Not wanting to throw out the hardware on hand, the motors were instead converted to bipolar operation. They were then hooked up to DRV8825 driver boards and run at 12 volts to provide more torque.

With the electromechanical side of things sorted out, it was simple to hook up the motor drivers to a NodeMCU, based on the ESP8266. The IoT-ready device makes it easy to control the motors remotely via the web.

The build came in at a low cost of around $10 per blind. That’s a good saving over commercial options which can cost hundreds of dollars in comparison. We’ve seen other work from [The Hook Up] before too, like his creative Flex Seal screen build. Video after the break.

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Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
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Messaging On Signal Via The ESP32

Signal is a popular encrypted messaging app, typically used on smartphones. The cross-platform service can now be used via the ESP32, however, thanks to the work of [Dharmik] and [Tirth].

The demonstration is simple, using an ESP32 microcontroller fitted with two push buttons. When one button is pushed, it increments a counter and sends a Signal message noting the current count. The other button sends an image as a Signal message.

The project relies on a Signal bot to deliver an API key that enables the project to work. Messages are sent by making HTTP requests with this key to the CallMeBot.com server. With the API key as authentication, users can only send messages to their own number, keeping the system safe from spammers.

While the demonstration is basic, it merely serves to illustrate how the project works. The aim was to allow home automation and other Internet of Things systems to send Signal messages, and through this method, it’s now possible. The highly security conscious likely won’t want to rely on a random third party server, but for those tinkering around, it may not be such a big deal.

The Internet of Things has a long history with self-messaging projects; we featured the Twittering Toaster back in 2008! Video after the break.

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Making Smart Bulbs Smarter With The Power Of MQTT

What’s the point of smart home automation? To make every day tasks easier, of course! According to [Tomasz Cybulski], that wasn’t the case when he installed IKEA smart lights in his closet. It’s handy to have them in a common switch, in this case a remote control, but having to look for it every time he needed the lights could use some improvement. Enter his project to make smart bulbs smarter, through the use of a simple ESP8266.

While hooking a door switch to the lights’ power supply could provide a quick solution, [Tomasz]’s wife wanted to keep the functionality of the remote control, so he had to look elsewhere. These light bulbs use the simple Zigbee protocol, so arranging for other devices was rather trivial. A USB dongle to interface with the protocol was configured for his existing Raspberry Pi automation controller, while an ESP8266 served as the real-world sensor by connecting it to reed switches installed in the closet doors.

With all the hardware sorted out, it’s a simple matter of making it all talk to each other. The ESP8266, using the Tasmota firmware, sends a signal to an MQTT server running on the Raspberry Pi, which in turn translates it to a remote trigger on the Zigbee frequency with the dongle. The lights turn on when the door opens, and off again once it closes. And since there were no further modifications to the lights themselves, the original IKEA controller still works as expected, which we’re sure [Tomasz]’s wife appreciates!

MQTT can be an interesting piece of software that goes beyond just home automation though, and if you already have a server in your home you can use it to transfer your clipboard’s contents to another device. If you are using it for home automation though, here’s an inspiration for a rather unusual dashboard to keep things interesting. Check out this hack in action after the break.

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Weather Note Tells You What You Need To Know, And No More

Smartphones are portals to an overwhelming torrent of information. Yes, they’re a great way to find out the time, your bus schedule, and the weather, but they’re also full of buzzers and bells going off every three minutes to remind you that your uncle has reposted a photo of the fish he caught ten years ago. Sometimes, it’s better to display just the essentials, and that’s what Weather Note does.

It’s built around the Adafruit Feather Huzzah, a devboard built around the venerable ESP8266. It’s a great base for an Internet of Things project like this one, with WiFi built-in and ready to go. The Weather Note talks to a variety of online platforms to scrape weather data and helpful reminders, with the assistance of If This Then That, or IFTTT. Reminders to walk the dog or get some milk are displayed on a small OLED screen, while there’s also a bunch of alphanumeric displays for other information. WS2812 LEDs are used behind a shadowbox to display weather conditions, with cute cloud, rain, and sun icons. It’s all wrapped up in a tidy frame perfect for the mantlepiece or breakfast table.

It’s a great build to learn about programming for the Internet of Things, and with those bright LED displays, it’s probably a viable nightlight too. It’s a rare project that can both tell you about the weather and keep you from stubbing your toe in the kitchen, after all. Those desiring a stealthier build should consider going down the smart mirror route instead. Video after the break.

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Shhh… Robot Vacuum Lidar Is Listening

There are millions of IoT devices out there in the wild and though not conventional computers, they can be hacked by alternative methods. From firmware hacks to social engineering, there are tons of ways to break into these little devices. Now, four researchers at the National University of Singapore and one from the University of Maryland have published a new hack to allow audio capture using lidar reflective measurements.

The hack revolves around the fact that audio waves or mechanical waves in a room cause objects inside a room to vibrate slightly. When a lidar device impacts a beam off an object, the accuracy of the receiving system allows for measurement of the slight vibrations cause by the sound in the room. The experiment used human voice transmitted from a simple speaker as well as a sound bar and the surface for reflections were common household items such as a trash can, cardboard box, takeout container, and polypropylene bags. Robot vacuum cleaners will usually be facing such objects on a day to day basis.

The bigger issue is writing the filtering algorithm that is able to extract the relevant information and separate the noise, and this is where the bulk of the research paper is focused (PDF). Current developments in Deep Learning assist in making the hack easier to implement. Commercial lidar is designed for mapping, and therefore optimized for reflecting off of non-reflective surface. This is the opposite of what you want for laser microphone which usually targets a reflective surface like a window to pick up latent vibrations from sound inside of a room.

Deep Learning algorithms are employed to get around this shortfall, identifying speech as well as audio sequences despite the sensor itself being less than ideal, and the team reports achieving an accuracy of 90%. This lidar based spying is even possible when the robot in question is docked since the system can be configured to turn on specific sensors, but the exploit depends on the ability to alter the firmware, something the team accomplished using the Dustcloud exploit which was presented at DEF CON in 2018.

You don’t need to tear down your robot vacuum cleaner for this experiment since there are a lot of lidar-based rovers out there. We’ve even seen open source lidar sensors that are even better for experimental purposes.

Thanks for the tip [Qes]